photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

Building a Highway Out of Poverty

Over the past year, as we were meeting with Catholic Charities and others who serve the poor from all around the country, we often discussed Pope Benedict’s 2009 pastoral letter Caritas in Veritate, Caritas in Veritate addresses the root causes of the current economic crisis we’re experiencing, which is resulting in a greater gap between the rich and the poor, and challenges everyone to think about our economy and society in new ways so the poor are not left behind.

I thought his message was important for Americans to hear, so I wrote a short book that applies the Pope’s thinking to the pain and suffering we face in America today. The book was released in October when I was in Rome for meetings. Think and Act Anew: How Poverty in America Affects Us All and What We Can Do about It describes the role that every segment our society plays in determining whether what we do every day betters the lives of others. It also echoes the call in Caritas in Veritate that we must “think and act anew” to effect lasting change in our government support systems and in our economic models that include but are not exclusive to organizations that are market-based.

I am pleased to see that the book is already generating discussion. Arthur Jones wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

For Catholics and others, Think and Act Anew is a social justice jewel case containing many gems, not least E.J. Dionne’s foreword saying this: “A Baptist friend of mine who is a divinity professor tells me that one of her favorite classes every year involves introducing her mostly Protestant students to Catholic social teaching.”

Snyder himself provides this telling endnote: “As we will it, so shall the future be” — provided we pick up the peeler and prepare the spuds, sign the petitions, get involved in efforts for low-income housing, protest injustice and work for systemic change as if success were immaterial and action for others all-important.

Last week in Rome the leadership of the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice said that their priority is making sure the message of the encyclical Caritas in Veritate is disseminated and understood throughout the world. This makes me believe that we are on the right track with a message that needs to be heard and discussed here and around the world.

There are now 43 million people living in poverty in America. A few weeks ago on NBC Nightly News Suze Orman described starkly the reality of where we are now:

The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is disappearing altogether, so there it’s like there is a highway now into poverty. And I’m not sure there is a road out anymore.

We need to closely examine our values, our individual and society behavior, reexamine what we hold most important, and determine a new and better course for America. I urge everyone to get a copy of this book from Orbis Books. Read it and think about it. We must find ways to build highways out of poverty, not expressways in.